A Big Look At Big Hog In North Carolina

May 29, 2018

Hogs in a confinement barn.
Credit Public Domain

North Carolina’s pork industry has been in the spotlight since a jury awarded tens of millions to 10 people living close to one Eastern North Carolina hog farm. The money was awarded as nuisance payments for noxious odors, floating fecal dust and other byproducts of large-scale farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFO’s.

The defendant in this case is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor. It’s the first of more than 20 similar nuisance cases brought against the subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC. In addition to the nuisance case victory, the neighbors of these CAFO’s in eastern North Carolina also got a settlement in a civil rights complaint brought before the Environmental Protection Agency.

These neighbors are saying: If the companies spent the money, just a little bit more money, it would have less of an impact on their communities. - Cathy Clabby

Host Frank Stasio talks to North Carolina Health News senior environmental reporter Catherine Clabby about these cases. Naeema Muhammad also joins the conversation. She’s a community organizer and the co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.

The rules and regulations that farms in North Carolina have to follow have changed over time. Stasio talks to Wake Forest University School of Law professor Vanessa Zboreak about how politicians on both sides of the aisle worked to protect agricultural interests until they put a moratorium on new hog farm construction in 1997. Zboreak talks about how laws and regulations have changed over time, as well as what kinds of technology are available to help dispose of animal waste. Stasio also talks to Andy Curliss, the CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council, about how the pork industry has benefited the state.

We are the most regulated, most monitored sector of agriculture here in North Carolina than anywhere. - Andy Curliss

The hog slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina is the largest in the United States. Smithfield Foods opened the hog processing plant in 1992, and since then it has changed the communities around it. Stasio talks to Hampton University journalism professor Lynn Waltz about her new book, “Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers’ Rights at the World’s Largest Slaughterhouse” (University of Iowa Press/2018). She talks about how the slaughterhouse changed the landscape of eastern North Carolina and how workers there fought to unionize.

An open-air pig waste lagoon.
Credit DefMo (CC-BY-ND)

Interview Highlights

Muhammad on the health effects for those living near these hog farms:
The health effects that we've been able to document through health studies have been elevated blood pressure, upper respiratory problems, high rates of asthma – with children living nearby – anger, frustration, just overall not feeling good, nausea, being nauseated all the time, eyes burning, noses running, skin rashes, those kinds of things.

Clabby explaining the civil rights complaint:
Community members with the attorneys who are representing them some years ago brought a complaint to EPA saying the state of North Carolina was violating the Civil Rights Act because it was permitting hog farms in disproportionate numbers in poor neighborhoods where a lot of black people live ... They're arguing it was discrimination that's barred under the Civil Rights Act.

Some would argue that North Carolina has been corrupted. Some say that Smithfield Foods turned North Carolina into a company town. - Lynn Waltz

Zboreak on who the Right to Farm Act protects today:
As we've seen this consolidation of farms – and particularly the transition from family farms where the farmers owned the livestock – to this contract farming where an integrator like Smithfield or Tyson owns the animals from birth to slaughter, we're still to an extent protecting the individual farmers. But what we're protecting is a very different type of farming, economically.

Curliss on pork industry regulations:
We are the most regulated, most monitored sector of agriculture here in North Carolina than anywhere. We haven't built a new farm in 21 years, and we are highly regulated. Everything that happens on the farm is based on science: soil science, crop science, animal science. And so what happens on our farms is more regulated here than anywhere.

Waltz on the cheap price of pork:
We are paying. They're outsourcing the costs of producing the meat. They're outsourcing it on the farmers. They're outsourcing it on the environmental cleanup. They're outsourcing it on the workers and debilitating injuries on the workers. So we are paying. It's just that the cost of the meat itself is kept low.

NOTE
"Mr. Curliss' statement that the parties to that Title VI complaint reached a “resolution… that there was no civil rights violation in the way that the state is permitting” these swine operations is inconsistent with the Settlement Agreement. The Title VI complainants maintain that the permitting of these operations has a racially discriminatory impact. A copy of the Settlement Agreement can be found here." - Elizabeth Haddix, Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights

Response from Andy Curliss, CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council, on the civil rights complaint resolution:

"The key point there is that that has reached a resolution. And the resolution is – there was no civil rights violations in how the state has permitted the hog farms ... Where the farms are located is a function of crops – corn, soybeans – (and) where the packing plants are. We are simply objectively not located in African-American communities like that allegation said and, again, the parties to that complaint have agreed that there is no civil rights violation.   

The Final Settlement Agreement brings to conclusion the civil rights complaint that was filed by the parties.   In the Final Settlement Agreement, I refer you specifically to Page 11. It says: 

  • The parties have settled the Title VI complaint.
  • The agreement is a full and final release of the complaint.
  • The agreement speaks for itself – and no other statements are a part of the agreement.
  • The agreement does not constitute an admission by DEQ of any violation of Title VI.
  • The agreement does not constitute a finding of any violations of Title VI."

A copy of the signed agreement is here.